Indirect Reciprocity and Reputation Management in Religious Morality Relating to Concepts of Supernatural Agents


  • Andreas Nordin University of Gothenburg



reputation, indirect reciprocity, moral, mutualism, full-access agents


Concerns with reputation are found in relation to human notions about rank, honour, religious notions and sacred values. In cognitive and evolutionary approaches to religion, such as “adaptivist” and “by-product” theories, concepts of reputation are usually given only an indirect significance. From an “adaptivist” perspective, belief in supernatural punishment supports commitment enhancement and promotes intra-group competition, especially in the absence of concerns about reputational pressure. Alternative accounts, found in “by-product” and “standard model” – approaches, suggests that to attribute moral notions to supernatural agents derive from human cognitive systems devoted to social interaction and coordination entailing reputation monitoring. More profoundly, in altruist and mutualist models of human cooperation and morality, reputation implies different functions and, by consequence, reputation in “adaptivist” and “by-product” theories is awarded different degree of importance. The aim of this article is to analyse a predominant type of religious morality by focusing on conceptualisation of supernatural agents and the function of reputation monitoring. I shall compare altruist and mutualist accounts and adopt the latter to complement our understanding of the social cognitive machinery that underpins the relevance and attribution of moral notions to supernatural agents. I shall argue that concern about reputation is close at hand in the cognition of supernatural agents since: a) according to mutualistic theories, reputation holds a significant position in cooperation and morality and this has consequences for how religious morality ought to be modelled; b) supernatural agents are supposedly “full access agents” and aware of “strategic information” because they are omniscient agents that know everything of importance for a believer’s reputation and the dynamics of indirect reciprocity in which the believer takes part.

Author Biography

Andreas Nordin, University of Gothenburg

Lecturer, assistant professor


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How to Cite

Nordin, A. (2017). Indirect Reciprocity and Reputation Management in Religious Morality Relating to Concepts of Supernatural Agents. Journal for the Cognitive Science of Religion, 3(2), 125–153.